Magazine article CRM Magazine

Jetting to a Better Customer Experience: The Airline Industry Is Looking for a Flight Plan to Combat the Headwind of Low Satisfaction Scores

Magazine article CRM Magazine

Jetting to a Better Customer Experience: The Airline Industry Is Looking for a Flight Plan to Combat the Headwind of Low Satisfaction Scores

Article excerpt

The airline industry as a whole has had to weather some turbulence in terms of customer satisfaction. Just how rough the ride has been is in the eye of the beholder, but the J.D. Power and Associates 2009 North America Airline Satisfaction Study recently found overall customer satisfaction with airlines in 2009 has declined for a third consecutive year. According to the study, the decline is exacerbated by decreased passenger satisfaction with in-flight services, flight crews, and costs and fees, when compared with 2008.

"We are in an industry not well liked by [our] customer base," said C. David Cush, president and chief executive officer of Virgin America, at a recent Forrester Research event. "If you told me I'd be speaking at a customer experience forum five years ago, I would've told you you were crazy."

Looking to stem this tide, Delta Airlines recently stopped utilizing India-based contact centers to handle sales and reservations. In February, United Airlines (see "CRM on Twitter," page 16) brought 165 jobs back to its contact centers in Chicago, Detroit, and Hawaii. The potential benefits for even a 10-percentage-point increase in customer experience scores could mean millions for airlines--$293.7 million, to be precise, according to a recent Forrester study titled "Customer Experience Boosts Revenue."

Heads seemed to turn a bit, though, when news came out in June about Southwest Airlines' decision to have Virtual Hold Technology (VHT), a virtual-queuing solutions company, take a role in the airline's customer-service initiatives. Southwest, after all, is one of the airlines held in high regard when it comes to customer satisfaction. The airline ranked only behind JetBlue in J.D. Power's 2008 rankings for low-cost airlines; in the aforementioned Forrester study, it was the only airline ranked in the top quartile relative to its industry.

"Hold times, for airlines in particular, have gotten significantly worse over the past couple of years," explains Ian Jacobs, a CRM magazine columnist and a Datamonitor senior analyst for customer interaction technologies such as interactive voice response (IVR) systems. "Right now many airlines are trying to get you to pay to talk to a live human being, though Southwest doesn't do that. It has been one of the few that even tried to avoid [IVR] systems ... but given economic realities, it had to scale its contact center up to meet caller demands."

While the economic realities may be real, the company was still taking a risk. …

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